A Lad an’ a Lamp (1932)

A LAD AN’ A LAMP (1932)
Article 5339 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2017
Directed by Robert F. McGowan
Featuring Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, Dorothy DeBorba, Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins
Country: USA
What it is: “Our Gang” short with monkey.

The Our Gang kids believe they have stumbled across Aladdin’s lamp.

This short has the reputation of being one of the funniest ones from the “Our Gang” series, and it is pretty amusing. However, even though it was originally released uncut for TV syndication, it was eventually cut severely and then dropped from the package altogether. This was due to some noticeable racial stereotyping in the episode; check out Stymie’s wishes when he’s trying out a lamp for examples, but the most glaring one is when Spanky wishes that a young black boy named Cotton would turn into a monkey and comments that “all he needs is a tail”. Most of the story hinges on that last wish, as a chimp escapes from a show and appears in front of the kids after Cotton runs off. Pretty much the rest of the short gets its humor from chimp antics, though I find the sequences where various incidents occur in tandem with their wishing on the lamp (some of them engineered by eavesdropping adults) to be the best parts. As might be expected, the lamp isn’t really magic, so it’s a little dodgy as far as the fantastic content is concerned, though throwing a magician into the mix helps a bit.

Little Hiawatha (1937)

Article 5297 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-13-2016
Directed by David Hand
Featuring the voices of Sally Noble, Mary Rosetti, Millie Walters
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Little Hiawatha goes out with his bow and arrow to hunt forest animals, but breaks them when he discovers he doesn’t have the heart for it. Then he meets a bear…

The first half of this movie is pretty much the Disneyesque whimsy you’d expect. This is, of course, not a bad thing, and Disney was good at this approach. Still, the cartoon really takes off when the title character meets the bear; Disney was also great at the scary stuff, and you will find yourself concerned for Hiawatha’s life. As far as the fantastic content goes, this has less than you’d expect from a cartoon. The animals aren’t entirely anthropomorphic, but they’re given some human touches, such as laughter and cleverness, so they can’t quite be called realistic depictions of animals. At any rate, this is a good Disney cartoon.

Lucky Ghost (1942)

Article 5253 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-21-2016
Directed by William Beaudine
Featuring Mantan Moreland, F.E. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield
Country: USA
What it is: All-black ghost comedy

Two drifters hit the big time when they take two rich men on in a crap game and visit a nightclub with gambling. However, the owner of the nightclub is a very jealous man… and the club is also haunted.

I’ve encountered Mantan Moreland many times, most notably in KING OF THE ZOMBIES and an assortment of Charlie Chan films, but this is the first time I’ve caught him as the headliner in an all-black film. It looks like he was part of a comedy team known as Miller and Moreland at this time, but Miller is largely the straight man to Mantan’s antics. Mantan is as energetic as ever, and even though he doesn’t quite get as many great lines as he did in KING OF THE ZOMBIES, he makes up for it by doing some great physical comedy; we even get a chance to see him dance. The biggest downside of the movie is that it makes extensive use of what is for me the most tiresome of the black stereotypes of the era – their supposed obsession with gambling with dice; in fact, most of the plot is centered around this concept. At least it’s not your usual “old dark house” story; the ghosts are portrayed as real, and often manifest themselves as skeletons. Still, I think Mantan fans will feel they got their money’s worth with this one, and it is a bit of fun.

Laundry Blues (1930)

Article 5246 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2016
Directed by Mannie Davis and John Foster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Politically incorrect cartoon

Various Chinese anthropomorphic animals work and sing at a laundry.

I’ve got a collection of banned cartoons, and I’m really not surprised to see this one included in the collection. It’s basically a series of not-very-funny gags involving Chinese stereotypes, with a Jewish stereotype thrown in for good measure. It seems to try to get most of its humor by having the animated characters spout gibberish, though occasionally you can make out individual words or phrases; I heard “Mah-Jongg” and “Hong Kong” at certain points. The best thing about it is that it gets a bit surreal at times, especially during a bizarre street scene. However, most of the humor falls very flat, and there’s very little to recommend here. It’s one of those cartoons where if they cut out all the potentially offensive moments, you’d be left with the opening credits.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Monsters (1962)

aka Caperucita y Pulgarcito contra los monstruos
Article 5109 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-15-2016
Directed by Roberto Rodriguez
Featuring Maria Gracia, Cesareo Quezadas ‘Pulgarcito’, Jose Elias Moreno
Country: Mexico
What it is: What Vincent Price saw when he took LSD in THE TINGLER

When the villagers are all turned to animals, and the Big Bag Wolf and the ogre are sentenced to death by a jury of monsters, Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb and Stinky the Skunk join forces to save the world from the minions of evil. It’s a musical.

The first movie of the series (LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD) was a brain-frying excursion into the bizarre world of the Mexican children’s movie. The second movie (LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD AND HER FRIENDS) was relatively sedate and even had something in the way of a coherent plot. This one reverts to form by diving back into brain-frying grotesquerie, with more monsters than you can shake a stick at, bizarre comic antics between the ogre and the wolf, and the usual assortment of songs. The monsters include Frankenstein, a vampire, a werewolf, a pair of siamese twins, a pinhead named Carrothead, a wind monster that can blow hurricanes, a child-catcher who looks for all the world like Torgo from MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, a fire-breathing dragon, a robot, and a pair of witches. The dubbing is awful, and the voice given to the skunk will make you want to tear your ears off. It all unfolds a manic pace and leaves your mouth hanging open in astonishment. And, in its own warped way, it’s about as creepy a movie as you’re likely to see. Not recommended for those teetering on the brink of sanity.

The Loch Ness Horror (1982)

Article 5103 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-9-2016
Directed by Larry Buchanan
Featuring Sandy Kenyon, Miki McKenzie, Barry Buchanan
Country: USA
What it is: Scottish beastie horror

In Scotland, Scots and non-Scots encounter that Scottish beastie Nessie who lives in the Scottish lake of Loch Ness in Scotland. Much Scottishness is displayed.

This is the most recent of Larry Buchanan’s movies I’ve viewed for this series, and I can say that it’s easily the most technically advanced of those that I’ve seen. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a much bigger budget for this one than he had for the TV-Movies he made for AIP in the sixties; those were made for a pittance. No, the monster he concocts for this one isn’t really all that convincing (and he obviously couldn’t afford to make more than a neck and a head), but it still looks better than anything from those earlier movies. Not that the movie is good, mind you; the plot is a mess, the attack scenes are ludicrous, the movie is poorly paced, and much of the dialogue (of which there’s way too much) is laughable. He seems to expend most of his effort trying to pass off Lake Tahoe as Scotland, mostly by dint of his casting actors who show a willingness to attack the Scottish brogue with such aggressive abandon that the viewing audience is likely to suffer collateral damage from the shrapnel. I wouldn’t call it his best movie by a long shot, but I do have to admit it may be his most entertaining in terms of unintentional hilarity. And the scene where Nessie chews on a man’s head deserves some sort of award, possibly for the most ironic use of a PSYCHO musical motif.

Light Blast (1985)

aka Colpi di luce
Article 5102 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-8-2016
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Featuring Erik Estrada, Ennio Girolami, Michael Pritchard
Country: Italy
What it is: Action flick

A mad physicist has developed a death ray with which he tries to hold a city for ransom. Can a policeman stop him?

There are a handful of stop-motion animated sequences where we see the flesh melting off the bodies of the victims. The rest of the movie is a rehash of the usual action-movie cliches. You’ll get a mildly funky soundtrack, lots of car crashes, bullet wounds, cars blowing up, car chases, people set on fire, a car driving the wrong direction down the freeway, gunfights, a few hints of an investigation, and a token undeveloped character whose sole dramatic purpose is to be killed by the bad guys so we can feel sorry for the cop. It’ll pass muster for the uncritical action fan, I suppose, but those of us hoping for something more (an interesting story, compelling characters, creative dialogue, anything out of the ordinary that can set this one apart from the pack) had best turn our attention elsewhere. As it is, it’s one of those movies where the stunt men and the explosions experts deserve to be listed above anyone else on the creative team; they seem to be doing most of the work. It’s just another day at the movies here.

The Last House on Dead End Street (1977)

Article 5101 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-7-2016
Directed by Roger Watkins
Featuring Roger Watkins, Ken Fisher, Bill Schlageter
Country: USA
What it is: Exploitation horror

An ex-con with a chip on his shoulder decides to become a snuff filmmaker. When he is cheated by his producers, he decides to make them stars in his latest production…

My love for horror films has its roots in the experience of sitting in front of the TV on Saturday nights and watching old horror movies on my local Creature Feature. It did not grow out of the experience of sitting in grindhouse theaters to catch the most disgusting and exploitative examples of the genre that could be conjured up. And that’s why I never quite know how to react to movies like this where the sole purpose seems to be how best to disgust those who don’t like this sort of thing or pander to those who do; they align themselves with the exploitation film market, and I’ve never been big on exploitation myself. According to IMDB, the movie was made for 1500 dollars in 1972, then sat around for years before it was cut down to about two-fifths of its original length and released. All of the credits are pseudonyms, and it’s reputation thrived on the difficulty of seeing it, the rumor of it’s actually being a true snuff film, and the fact that for decades no one admitted to actually having been involved with the film. It’s exudes seediness and depravity, but I also feel there’s some slightly arty touches that do clue me in that it is, indeed, “only a movie”, and director Watkins does show a certain amount of skill given its budget. Apparently, the director felt that an ending voice-over that claimed the moviemakers (in the movie) were caught and punished for their crimes ruined the movie, and I suspect it’s because it has the air of making apologies for a movie that was meant to be unapologetic for what it was. In the end, however, I can’t say that I either enjoyed the movie or that it totally shocked my sensibilities; in the end, it felt just like another one of those movies that I had to get through to continue my series. And, as for the full 175 minute version that apparently exists, let’s just say the 74 minute version I saw was enough for me and I’ll leave that full print for someone who simply loves this sort of thing.

Luttes extravagantes (1899)

aka An Extraordinary Wrestling Match
Article 5088 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-23-2016
Directed by Georges Melies
Cast unknown
Country: France
What it is: Trick short

Wrestlers show off the latest moves, such as how to turn into someone of the opposite sex and how to tear apart and reassemble an opponent.

This one just recently went on my “ones that got away” list only to show up about a week later. Those who have seen FAT AND LEAN WRESTLING MATCH (also from Melies) will find this one very familiar; that film was a an almost virtual remake of this one, with a second sequence added at the end. At any rate, the film is still rather amusing, and it’s always welcome to find that another of Melies’s films is indeed extant.

Las luchadoras vs el robot asesino (1969)

aka The Wrestling Women versus the Murderous Robot
Article 5038 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-3-2016
Directed by Rene Cardona
Featuring Joaquin Cordero, Regina Torne, Hector Lechuga
Country: Mexico
What it is: More Mexican wrestling antics

A mad scientist uses a robot to kidnap other scientists in order to force them to work on a project to turn people into human robots. Can the wrestling women and their police boyfriends stop him?

I found this one on YouTube without English dubbing or subtitles, so I had to get a few of the plot details from other sources. That’s not to say that the movie would have been impenetrable without those sources; if you’ve seen other movies from the wrestling women series, you know what to expect and this one doesn’t vary the formula a whole lot. In fact, it’s at least partially a remake of the first one in the series, DOCTOR OF DOOM. The wrestling women are different in this one (no Gloria Venus or the Golden Rubi), and the new ones aren’t quite as memorable. They still have police boyfriends, and one of them is still broad comic relief. The movie mostly consists of the scientist sending out the robot to kidnap/kill someone, and the robot goes out and kills/kidnaps someone. Nevertheless, this is about as entertaining as the series ever got. Oddly enough, this one is devoid of the musical numbers or nightclub scenes that were common to the form. Incidentally, the doctor also keeps a monster with an ugly face in a cage in the cellar, and this creature features prominently in the two dumbest scenes in the movie. In the first, a female nurse tempts the monster by hitching up her skirt and adjusting her stockings in front of him, then she unlocks the cage and turns her back on the monster. The second one has the scientist ordering the monster to break the chain holding him in the cage, which the creature easily does. This leads to the question – why lock up a creature with a chain that you know it can break?